Stop installing unnecessary software on my PCs

What is it about software companies that they think they can install a load of rubbish on my PCs? This morning, Java was bugging me that it wanted to install an update. That’s fair enough but, as it installed, it asked me if I wanted to install OpenOffice too (I don’t) – I wouldn’t mind this so much if it wasn’t that the default state for the check box was selected.

Apple Software Update pestering for installation of Safari on WindowsNo sooner had Java finished updating itself then the Apple Updater popped up and said “hey, we’d like you to update QuickTime. We can’t be bothered to give you just a patch, so please download 29MB of our bloatware” (I said no because I was using a mobile connection), “and while you’re at it why not install our web browser that seems to have more than its fair share of security issues… that will be another 23MB” (of course, I am paraphrasing here – but you can see the dialog box… complete with checkbox selected by default. Can you imagine the uproar there would be if the Microsoft Office for Mac Updater tried to install another Microsoft product on people’s computers?

It’s not just the update programs either. I seem to recall that one time when I installed Adobe Reader it wanted to put some toolbar in my browser (no thanks). And, whilst they criticise (Windows) PC makers for shipping demo software on new PCs (in the “Stuffed” Get a Mac ad), Apple ships demo software on new Macs (albeit its a demonstration version of Microsoft Office).

Please! Stop installing this crapware. I want a tidy, secure system and the way to do that is to minimise unnecessary installs. Of course, as the software companies all know, 90% of PC users will click any old dialog box and that’s why their PCs run so slowly and fall over so often.

Is Apple so cool that their stores don’t need safety notices?

Last Sunday, I was looking after the kids for the morning to give my wife some R&R. I needed to head to the shopping centre (mall) in Milton Keynes, so whilst I was there, I decided to “drop in” to the new Apple retail store (as geeks do). OK, so it’s an Apple Store – light and airy – even if it is shoehorned into a standard retail unit (this is Milton Keynes, not Regent Street!) and it sure as hell beats the old “Apple Store” in Tesco! I wanted to pick up a copy of VMware Fusion and an for my iPod so that it can remain protected when I plug it into the iPod dock in my wife’s new Volkswagen.

I managed to get the last copy of VMware Fusion but was out of luck on the invisibleSHIELD (the “genius” I spoke to had never heard of it and tried to sell me a normal case), then I made the mistake of trying to leave the store…

I already mentioned that I had my children with me but I didn’t point out that they are aged 3 and 1, and as I wanted to move at a reasonable pace, they were both riding in a double pushchair. Being just a normal retail unit, it has a small lift, at the end of a short corridor at the back of the store, but it is definitely for customer use. I wheeled in the pushchair, my son pressed the button to go down and we moved the vast distance of about 18 inches before the lift stopped and there was a feint beep. I pushed the buttons but nothing happened. I tried to open the door but it was locked. I picked up the intercom but there was no dial tone – and no-one answering. At this point I was worried. It seemed I was stuck in a lift with 2 toddlers and no obvious way to call for help.

Purely by chance I moved the pushchair and the beep stopped. Then I pushed the button and the lift began to move. It seems that the sound was an alarm that cuts in when sensors detect that the lift occupants are too close to the edge (it’s the sort of lift that has a moving platform rather than a closed “box”) but where were the safety notices? And why hadn’t the intercom worked when I picked it up? Should I have pressed another button? I don’t know – there were no instructions!

It seems that Apple expects its customers to be technical enough to work these things out for themselves. Or maybe the display of some safety notices in the lift runs contrary to the aesthetics of an Apple retail store…

When Apple’s connectors don’t connect

A couple of weeks back I wrote about Apple’s lack of clarity over delivery times when ordering a new computer. Well, my MacBook finally arrived yesterday (and like it very much) but tonight, I got ready to hook it up to the TV using a combination of my Apple Mini-DV to DVI and DVI to Video adapters only to find that the “spade” on the male DVI connector on one adapter is is too large to fit the female DVI connector on the other! Arghhh! I also have the same problem if I try to connect it to a DVI to VGA connector.

These are all Apple products (i.e. it’s not as it I’m trying to use a combination of cheap components to cut corners) but it seems that I need to buy a third connector – a Mini-DV to Video connector – for the rare occasions when I want to watch digital video content on my aging 32″ TV.

Thank you Apple – for yet another example of the fabled Apple design taking precedence over practicality. As a friend pointed out to me, Apple probably doesn’t want me using two connectors together as it will spoil the aesthetic effect. Shouldn’t that be my choice?

Delays when purchasing Apple hardware

After the disappointment that was Macworld 2008, last weekend I decided to bite the bullet and buy an Apple notebook. A MacBook Pro would be great, but it is also an old design and very expensive, so I decided to buy a MacBook.

My employer is a member of Apple’s employee purchase programme (EPP) so I bought the computer from the UK online Apple Store (EPP discounts are not valid in brick and mortar stores). Somewhere in the purchase process I’m sure that I was quoted 3-5 days for delivery (24 hour shipment for non-customised orders) – right up until the order was finalised, at which point it got a lot longer.

I also purchased some accessories (a mini-DVI to DVI adapter and iPhone headphone adapter) but that’s not really customisation. Is it? Apparantly is is, at least according to Apple. Checking the site now, it seems that adding accessories like this increases the ship time from 24 hours to 3 days.

My order was shipped within 48 hours but is currently estimated to take 11 days for delivery. I could walk from my house to Apple’s UK distribution centre in Leicestershire and back in that time (most couriers that come to my door have a nice big diesel van to make it faster for them…). I was confused, especially as the shipment status page has displayed “In transit to final destination – carrier details to be updated shortly” for a couple of days now and I’d expected it to be with UPS/DHL/insert-name-of-courier-here, allowing me to track its progress (and to make sure I’m here to sign for it).

So I called Apple and it turns out that my Macbook is not from stock in the UK. It’s being made in China. Shipping within 24 hours is all very well but when it’s shipped from the other side of the world it’s kind of irrelevant. Meanwhile, this was not clearly communicated to me at the time of order (I might have foregone my EPP discount for the sake of picking one up from a store) – making me a very dissatisfied customer – particularly as if I decide to cancel or return the order it will cost me another £60.

Apple has traditionally enjoyed a loyal fanbase and, more recently, has increased market share by encouraging many consumers to switch to their product range. I know that in my case the original decision to buy an Apple computer was based on style and the surity that if I didn’t get along with MacOS X, I could always install Windows on the Intel hardware. I’m now buying my second Mac and am extremely disappointed by the service I’ve received. It’s not as if the MacBook is inexpensive either – from a cursory glance around it seems that comparibly specified PC notebook from another vendor can be purchased for significantly less money and other major OEMs are happy to talk to me about product roadmaps so I know I’m not buying a white elephant (no chance of that with Apple).

It seems to me (and to friends who have experienced Apple’s customer service of late) that, as Apple grows its market share, attention to detail on the things that matter most to customers declines. Maybe that is just a reality of capitalism. Maybe it’s a reflection on corporate American business practices. Or maybe Apple have just taken their eye off the ball (again).

A sneak peek at the Vista SP1 source code?

Sometimes I get criticised for writing positively about Microsoft products and being critical of Apple – hey, with the MacBook Air, it’s hard not to notice the lack of substance – what next? an invisible Apple notebook? (thanks to Alex for sending me that – and he used to evangelise almost everything that Cupertino produced before Apple products started to get popular and they began putting shareholders ahead of customers). I like to think that I’m pretty objective but then again my day job does involve consulting on Microsoft technologies so just in case there is any bias around here I thought I’d redress the balance with a little spoof about some Windows Vista SP1 source code that seems to have escaped into the public domain:

  TOP SECRET Microsoft(c) Project:Longhorn(TM) SP1
  Estimated release date: 2008

#include "win95.h"
#include "win98.h"
#include "leopard.h"

char chew_up_some_ram[10000000];

void main() {
  while(!CRASHED) {
    if(first_time_install) {
    if(still_not_crashed) {

  if(!DX10GPU()) {
    set_graphics(aero, very_slow);
    set_mouse(reaction, sometimes);

  //printf("Welcome to Windows 2000");
  //printf("Welcome to Windows XP");
  printf("Welcome to Windows Vista");

  while(something) {


(I got this from multiple sources but they all seem to lead back to a Linux Format advert for TechRadar).

Now, the reason I’m posting this is that most Microsofties can appreciate the geek humour and have a chuckle. Sadly the Linux guys at FedoraForum chose to demonstrate their geekdom by descending into discussions of “the M$ tax” and other such ramblings in the vein of “my operating system is better than your operating system”. Yawn! One even commented that slow Vista sales were good for Linux (hmm… how’s that then? There may be a Mac revival going on in the consumer marketplace but I haven’t heard about a massive defection of dissatisfied Windows Vista users moving to Linux – quite the opposite in fact with many people simply reverting to using a familiar Windows XP installation).

I wrote over a year back how, rightly or wrongly, Windows XP would be around for a while yet and with Vista SP1 just around the corner it really does feel as though corporate customers are starting to get ready for Vista now. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting my grubby paws on a beta of Windows 7 (hopefully later this year).

Macworld 2008 – looking beyond the Steve Jobs reality distortion field

Before the Apple fanboys call me a hater, I’m not a PC bigot.  I’ve written here many times about how a PC is a PC, and that the MacOS X vs. Windows vs. Linux thing has gone too far, with advocates of each platform treating theirs as the one true approach to personal computing with the kind of fervour normally reserved for religious purposes.  I also like my Apple hardware and have a Mac, three iPods and an iPhone to prove it (as well as an assortment of Windows and Linux PCs), so I think I can be pretty objective in this area.

Having established my credentials, let me take a few minutes to dissect Steve Jobs’ keynote at the recent Apple Macworld conference and push aside the hype to get down to what Apple’s major announcements for 2008 really mean.

  1. As is now traditional with Macworld conferences, it started off with a PC vs. Mac advert complete with all the usual bias, lies, and claims that PC (i.e. Windows) copies the Mac in everything… hmm.  I’ve not upgraded to MacOS X 10.5 Leopard as for me it doesn’t represent a huge leap forward but I am glad though to hear that it is selling well – Apple claims 4 million copies in first 90 days making it the most successful version of OS X ever.  That’s only half the story though.  It may only have affected a minority but, from the reports I’ve heard (in the Mac-focused press), Leopard upgrades have not been without their problems (how dare users run non-Apple applications!).  And as more and more consumers switch to a Mac (I see no evidence of major businesses switching – except perhaps the odd director here and there who is senior enough to tell the IT department what he wants to use) problems with upgrades between OS releases will appear more significant.
  2. The next major announcement was Time Capsule – a companion product to Time Machine consisting of an Airport Extreme and hard drive in a single device to backup Macs wirelessly.  It sounds great, but suffers from the same problem as Windows Home Server does for PCs – support for heterogeneous networks is just not as good as it could be (and, as for Time Machine, Windows PCs have had snapshot-based backups for years).  What’s particularly worrying is that Apple claim the device has a "server grade" hard disk yet according to the technical specifications the Time Capsule uses a SATA disk. Those of us who frequently specify servers know that major vendors such as HP do not recommend SATA disks for intensive workloads due to the higher MTBF (hence the 1 year warranty that HP offers on a SATA disk compared with three years on a SCSI disk) and consequently I consider that to call the Time Capsule disk "server grade" is taking things a little far.
  3. Looking at consumer media devices:
    • There’s little doubt that the iPhone has been a huge success with 4 million devices sold in 200 days (although that is still quite a way off the original target of 10 million in the first year).  Apple is claiming 19.5% of the United States smartphone market but what also has to be considered is that the iPhone is not a business phone.  The new iPhone software is great too, although I’ve upgraded mine and am a little underwhelmed with the location awareness, which often seems to think I’m a few streets away (or even the next village).  As for the software update being free – I should hope so given how much we are paying for our iPhones!
    • Continuing the theme, Apple has made some of the iPhone applications available for the iPod touch, for a small charge, with the purchase via the iTunes store (could this be a demonstration of the model for future iPod and iPhone software purchases once the SDK is launched?).
    • The iTunes store has now sold over 4 billion songs with 20 million in one day (Christmas Day 2007).  It’s hard to deny that it’s been a huge success although the decision of some record companies to distribute DRM-free music on competing platforms should certainly be viewed as a threat (as long as it’s DRM-free then that’s no problem for consumers!). Apple is claiming that they are doing well with TV show downloads too (precious little content over here) but have revised the model for selling films, launching iTunes Movie Rentals – and it seems the studios are all on board!  The bad news is that international rollout is not planned until later this year and I for one am sick of Apple treating everyone outside the US as second class citizens.  It does look good though – the DRM is not too onerous with 30 days to start watching a film after rental, and 24 hours to finish (just like physical store) – and one nice touch is the ability to start watching on one device (e.g. a PC) and then finish on another (e.g. an iPod).  US pricing will be $2.99 for "library" films or $3.99 for new releases (so less than my local DVD rental store – that is good).
    • The Apple TV was originally an accessory for iTunes running on a computer and has sold reasonable well but even so there is little doubt that it has not been as popular as Apple had hoped.  Now Apple is trying again with new software for Apple TV (a free upgrade for existing users and a reduced price for new hardware purchases – at least in the US) and it will still synchronise with a computer but is no longer required to do so.  Support for iTunes Movie Rentals is extended with the ability to access DVD or HD quality (HD will cost an extra dollar) with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound as well as direct access to podcasts, photos (from Flickr or .Mac) and YouTube.  For me though, the Apple TV is still missing what it really needs – television!  Add a tuner and PVR capabilities and I’ll buy one.
  4. Finally, Jobs claims that Apple makes "the best notebooks in the industry" (I think they are among the best – Lenovo’s ThinkPads are also great) and at MacWorld he announced the MacBook Air – "the world’s thinnest notebook".  That it may be, but I think it’s expensive (relative to the MacBook and MacBook Pro), underpowered (an Intel Core 2 Duo may not be slow, but 1.6GHz is slow for a Core 2 Duo), lacks the ability to be upgraded and, whilst the main device may be thin, it does require me to carry a load of peripherals with me (power, optical drive, USB hub – it only has a single port) and doesn’t even have built in wired Ethernet.  It does have some nice touches though, like the additional gestures on the trackpad.  Remote Disc sounds good as an alternative to providing a build in optical device but why is an application required to simply share a CD/DVD drive?

Last year wrote about how didn’t want an iPhone but by the time it launched over here I’d changed my mind (and shunned the touchscreen widescreen iPod that I had originally craved!).  This year I wanted either an aluminium MacBook with a PC Express Card slot and upgraded graphics, or a MacBook Pro with a MacBook-style keyboard.  The MacBook Air is neither – it’s just a thin, aluminium, MacBook, with reduced functionality and increased price – but I guess the lesson for me is to never say never…

New Apple keyboard

Earlier today, I dropped into the Apple Store in Solihull to pick up a case to protect my iPhone and, as is so often the case with me and computer hardware, I ended up buying something else. Not the 17″ MacBook Pro that I’m still seriously tempted by but the new Apple chiclet keyboard.

Apple Keyboard (top view)It’s very “Logan’s Run” (well, 1970s Sci-Fi anyway) but also incredibly comfortable to use, with none of the “stickiness” of the keys on my previous Apple keyboard. If I had one criticism, it would be that the return key on the UK keyboard is a little skinny (the graphic here shows the US version) but nevertheless this was definitely a worthwhile upgrade. Now it only they’d do something about that damned “mighty” mouse

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at D5

I know I’m a bit late posting this, but the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates interview at the D5 conference is available for free download at the iTunes Store (audio or video). Love them or hate them, these two pioneers of the personal computing world have far more in common than the media (and the fanboys) would generally let us believe and I personally found it very interesting.

Macworld 2007 – cutting through the hype

Introducing iPhone.  So what?In case you hadn’t noticed, a couple of weeks back it was MacworldApple‘s annual expo – and Apple Inc. (no longer Apple Computer Inc.) announced that they are going to make a phone. Whoopy do. It even made news at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Except that it won’t be available until Summer 2007 (as it has to get regulatory approval).

So why am I so underwhelmed with the iPhone? Firstly, I’m not underwhelmed – I think it sounds like a great device, as long as (when it arrives) it delivers everything that Apple is promising:

“iPhone combines three products – a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching – into one small and lightweight handheld device.”

[source: Apple]

Except that it will cost a small fortune in the US, isn’t yet complete, is likely to be severely restricted in terms of third party application development, doesn’t yet appear on the Apple UK website (so I can assume it won’t be here for a while yet, if at all) and I can already get a device from a number of manufacturers that does most of that today (and for which I can develop my own mobile applications) running the Windows Mobile operating system (other mobile operating systems are available).

It seems to me that Apple is learning (as Microsoft has been for a few years now) that mobile telecommunications is a cut-throat business. Apple has gone through the pain of negotiating with record labels (and more recently with movie studios) and has made a name in digital media – Microsoft is just learning how hard that is. Now it’s Apple’s turn for hard lessons – to find out that telcos don’t want what consumers want – instead, they want to control the platform, lock down functionality, introduce their own unique selling points, and encourage customers to upgrade to the next greatest device, in the process locking themselves into another lucrative airtime contract, as soon as the current one ends.

Apple also launched a wireless access point/hub/NAS device/print server/NAT firewall – that sounds great except it uses a wireless standard that’s not ratified yet (IEEE 802.11n) and which my 6-month old Intel Core Duo Mac cannot use at full speed (only the Core 2 Duo models can be upgraded via a firmware flash).

They also launched a set top box for streaming media. Except that it works by synchronising with an iTunes library and it only has a 40GB hard disk (my audio collection alone is 40GB and that’s before I download any video content – a feature not yet available from the iTunes Store in the UK). It’s also limited to the formats that Apple offers, so doesn’t support other widely used formats such as DivX (or, of course, any of the competing Windows Media formats). Finally, streaming high definition video needs high bandwidth and the wired Ethernet ports are limited to 100Mbps whilst wireless throughput is likely to be even lower (even with 802.11n)

Cut through the hype and Macworld 2007 was a huge disappointment to me. I would have bought a new 80GB (120GB would be nice) iPod with a wide format touch screen but I don’t want the rest of the iPhone features. I would also have paid for a replacement iSight (as the old one was withdrawn from sale in Europe last summer due to new regulations on the restriction of hazardous substances and has now disappeared from sale in the US too) and if anyone doubts that there is a market for iSights as new MacBooks and iMacs have them built in, Mac Mini and Mac Pro users still want a webcam that works with iChat AV and dedicating a DV camcorder to the task is a huge waste, whilst the original iSights are changing hands on eBay for more than they cost new (I just bought one this evening – so there’s bound to be a new one announced soon…).

Even the Apple fanboys at Mac Break Weekly are talking of “the Steve Jobs reality distortion field” and referring to Macworld 2007 as “This Week in Vapourware”.

Apple Stores inside Tesco… not a marriage made in heaven

My local Tesco contains an Apple Store as a proof of concept with potential to be rolled out nationwide. I just called with a sales enquiry and this is an approximate transcript of the conversation:

Tesco Customer Service: “Hello, Tesco Kingston – how can I help you?”
Me: “Hello, I understand you have a dedicated Apple Store within the store.”
Tesco Customer Service: “Yes sir, we do. Would you like to speak to someone there?”
Me: “Yes please.”

(… short wait …)

Tesco Electrical Department: “Electrical.” (imagine estuary Englisham I bovvered” accent)
Me: “Hello, I understand that you have an Apple Store – please can you tell me is that just for new sales or is do you offer upgrades?”
Tesco Electrical Department: “Upgrades – what is that? [like]”
Me: “Can I speak to someone in the Apple Store please?”
Tesco Electrical Department: “There’s no-one here from that section – what did you want to know?”

(Luckily, after I was insistent that I wanted to speak to someone in the Apple Store, they suddenly became available and confirmed that they do not offer an upgrade service).

Let’s look at this proof of concept in a little more detail. Apple is a brand with a tremendous image and huge customer loyalty (albeit with less-than-brilliant technical support) looking to gain an increased market presence. On the other hand, Tesco is known as a supermarket monopolist (accounting for more than £1 in every £8 spent on the high street in the UK – hence the attraction for Apple) and (in my experience) also delivers shocking customer service. Not exactly a marriage made in heaven… at least not if Apple wants to retain its reputation.